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Recognizing Community Contributions

Excerpt from a sermon by Tanya Cothran to the United Methodist Church in Point Richmond, CA, in October 2022.

One of the groups applying for a $5,000 Spirit in Action grant [which was approved in December!] works with farmers in Malawi, training them in a set of principles called Farming God’s Way. As described by Tombolombo Cooperative leader Mbwenu Chirwa, this method takes people “back into the garden of Eden where there was plenty of food.” Mbwenu’s program uses that promise of abundance from God coupled with agroecology methods, which improve the soil and mitigate the impacts of climate change. Their tomato gardening project will use drip irrigation (which uses less water), organic pest management (reducing the need for fertilizers), and intercropping (to grow more varieties of food in a small area).

man and boy in front of a brick home in Malawi
Mbwenu with his son at their home in 2017

A section in our grant application asks about the community’s contribution to the project. The goal behind this question is two-fold. In part, it is for the grant evaluators to see the community’s buy-in and commitment to the project. However, it is also there because I know it can be easy in North America to slip into a savior mindset, where we think we are the only ones with resources to share. This question is a way of celebrating and honoring what the community brings to the table.

Tombolombo Cooperative lists that for their community contribution, they are bringing labor, compost, and virgin soil. Reading that list, especially the last item – virgin soil – stirred something deep inside me. Spirit in Action may be sending money, but that virgin soil contribution is so precious and so valuable. We design our grant application to help us remember these community contributions and to value them in our evaluation.

many green tomatoes on the vine
Tomatoes growing in a greenhouse in Malawi
Dennis, next to the rock to be carried to the building site

As another example of community contribution, the Women of Change in Cherangany, Kenya, noted their community contribution as transport labor. Spirit in Action is supporting them this year to build a community centre in their rural village. It’ll be a place where neighbors can meet, exchange ideas and tips, and generally have a place to gather and belong. However, their village is situated down many winding roads along the edge of the Rift Valley. The trucks carrying the building supplies, like cement and rebar, aren’t able to drive on those small roads. So community members contribute to the project by carrying the materials – by hand, and walking – the last 100 meters to the building site. Back and forth they go until they have all the materials assembled—just a fantastic contribution to their community development.

Recognizing the contributions of both parties moves Spirit in Action towards our goal of true partnership with grant partners.


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